Dams and Development. A Framework for Decision-Making (WCD Report)

The World Commissions on Dams final report describes an innovative framework for planning water and energy projects. The WCD framework covers key areas for improved planning of dams, including the need to fully assess all available options for meeting water and energy needs; addressing outstanding social issues from existing dams before building new ones, gaining public acceptance for key decisions, and the importance of protecting healthy rivers. The WCD recommendations form the basis for many decision-making processes for dams around the world and constitute international soft law. They are also being adapted to national contexts in various public dialogue processes around the world. The commission was a global multi-stakeholder body initiated in 1997 by the World Bank and the World Conservation Union (IUCN) in response to growing opposition to large dam projects.1

Goal: The report intends to protect dam-affected people and the environment, and ensure that the benefits from dams are more equitably distributed.

Relevant Clauses:2


  1. Needs assessment: validating the needs for water and energy services.
  2. Selecting alternatives: identifying the preferred development plan from among the full range of options.
  3. Project preparation: verifying that agreements are in place before tender of the construction contract.
  4. Project implementation: confirming compliance before commissioning.
  5. Project operation: adapting to changing contexts.

  Strategic Priority 1: Gaining Public Acceptance

1 Stakeholder Analysis

2 Negotiated Decision-Making Processes

3 Free, Prior and Informed Consent

 Strategic Priority 2: Comprehensive Options Assessment

4 Strategic Impact Assessment for Environmental, Social, Health and Cultural Heritage Issues

5 Project-Level Impact Assessment for Environmental, Social, Health and Cultural Heritage Issues

6 Multi-Criteria Analysis

7 Life Cycle Assessment

8 Greenhouse Gas Emissions

9 Distributional Analysis of Projects

10 Valuation of Social and Environmental Impacts

11 Improving Economic Risk Assessment

 Strategic Priority 3: Addressing Existing Dams

12 Ensuring Operating Rules Reflect Social and Environmental Concerns

13 Improving Reservoir Operations

Strategic Priority 4: Sustaining Rivers and Livelihoods

14 Baseline Ecosystem Surveys

15 Environmental Flow Assessment

16 Maintaining Productive Fisheries

 Strategic Priority 5: Recognising Entitlements and Sharing Benefits

17 Baseline Social Conditions

18 Impoverishment Risk Analysis

19 Implementation of the Mitigation, Resettlement and Development Action Plan

20 Project Benefit-Sharing Mechanisms

 Strategic Priority 6: Ensuring Compliance

21 Compliance Plans

22 Independent Review Panels for Social and Environmental Matters

23 Performance Bonds

24 Trust Funds

25 Integrity Pacts

 Strategic Priority 7: Sharing Rivers for Peace, Development, and Security

26 Procedures for Shared Rivers

  1. International Rivers (2014): The World Commission on Dams []
  2. International Rivers (2000): Dams and Development. A New Framework for Decision-Making []